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Yarmouth freshman Najee McQueen looks on in disbelief as Wells celebrates its 41-38 victory in Saturday’s Class B South boys’ basketball final. The Warriors stunned the top-ranked Clippers and will meet Mt. Desert Island in the state final Friday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Five years ago, the Yarmouth boys’ basketball team, saddled with a long state championship drought, upset favored, powerhouse Falmouth in a regional final, then went on to win the Class B state title.
Saturday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, the Clippers were on the other side of the coin.
Yarmouth, the top seed in Class B South, met No. 3 Wells, a squad appearing in its first regional final since 1984, and after a pair of decisive regular season wins over the Warriors, was viewed as a decided favorite.
But a happy ending for the Clippers wasn’t to be.
In fact, the ending was downright gutwrenching.
Yarmouth, coming off easy wins in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, shot to a quick 6-2 lead behind a pair of layups from senior Gibson Harnett, but with 3:45 left in the first quarter, Harnett was fouled hard, suffered a serious cut on his head and had to leave the game.
He would not return.
That compromised the Clippers’ opportunity to be dangerous from the outside as well as down low and Wells took advantage, riding eight points and three steals from senior Deandre Woods to a 13-10 lead after one quarter.
Yarmouth couldn’t generate much offense at all in the second period, scoring a mere four points, and the Warriors extended their advantage to 23-14 at the break.
Down by 11 nearly three minutes into the third quarter, the Clippers finally came to life, erupting for 13 straight points, capped by a 3-pointer from senior standout Aleksander Medenica, to take the lead, 27-25, but Wells tied the score, sending the game to the fourth quarter where the Warriors found a way to pull it out.
Two free throws from junior Cam Cousins and a layup by Woods put Wells ahead to stay and while Yarmouth pulled within one, 36-35, on a pair of Medenica free throws with 1:54 to go, it could never regain the lead.
After Wells sophomore Matt Sherburne made it a three-point game with a pair of free throws, Medenica looked to tie with a 3-pointer, but the shot was off.
The Warriors added a free throw from Cousins and two more from senior Owen Berry and even though the Clippers got a late 3-pointer from freshman Najee McQueen, they couldn’t get the ball back and Wells held on to prevail, 41-38.
Woods had 16 points and Cousins finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds as Wells improved to 16-5, ended Yarmouth’s season at 18-3, won its first regional championship in 33 years and advanced to battle Mt. Desert Island (18-3) in the Class B state final Friday at 9 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.
“If we’re going to end the season, I want to end it here,” said Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. “It’s a difficult thing to go through, but it builds character. It’s never easy to lose, but the season has been terrific. These kids won and lost as one unit. It didn’t work out for us tonight, but if you ask the guys if they want to be in that position next year, they’d say yes. We’re privileged and honored to be here. It’ll take time to get over this, but we will as a team even though our practice and playing days are over. “
Yarmouth has crept ever closer to a regional title the past few seasons.
After losing to Greely in the semifinals in 2014, the Clippers were the top seed in Western B in 2015, but were upset by Lake Region in the semifinals. Last year, in the inaugural Class B South title game, Yarmouth was done in by a flurry of second half fouls and lost again to the Lakers, who went on to win the title.
This winter, the Clippers came in to the season as the favorite and lived up to billing, setting a new program record for regular season wins (16) and as the top seed in Class B South, they impressed in their first two postseason outings, eliminating No. 9 Gray-New Gloucester (71-44) in the quarterfinals and racing to a big lead and never looking back en route to a 79-49 win over No. 4 Oak Hill in Thursday’s semifinals.
Wells went 13-5 in the regular season and as the No. 3 seed, dispatched No. 6 Maranacook (44-29) in the quarterfinals and Thursday in the semis, a late shot from Berry sent the Warriors past No. 2 Spruce Mountain, 53-52, and into their first regional final in 33 seasons.
Yarmouth took both regular season meetings, rolling at Wells, 91-63, Jan. 17, then pulling away in the fourth quarter to take the regular season finale at home Feb. 10, 69-52.
The teams had met just once previously in the tournament and it resulted in a 60-41 Warriors’ win in the 1998 Western B preliminary round.
Saturday, Yarmouth was expected to prevail, but Wells turned that script on its ear.
The Clippers started fast, as sophomore Noah Eckersley-Ray set up junior Nolan Hagerty for a layup, but Woods countered with a floater.
After senior Igor Nikolic entered the game and made an immediate impact with a steal, Harnett finished Nikolic’s feed with a layup.
Hagerty then grabbed a rebound and threw a long touchdown pass ahead to Harnett, who made another layup for a 6-2 lead.
After Woods made a bank shot, Harnett was fouled by Woods with 3:45 remaining in the quarter and hit the court hard, suffering a cut on his head in the process. That play proved fateful and ended Harnett’s high school basketball career.
After play was stopped for several minutes to clean blood off the floor, sophomore Jonny Torres came in to shoot the free throws for Harnett and made one, but Wells then came to life.
A corner jumper from Woods was followed by a 3-pointer from senior Tyler Dewey, which put the Warriors ahead, and a putback by Woods for an 11-7 advantage.
“They have two big kids and it’s hard to box them out, but I did what I can do,” Woods said.
“Deandre hit big buckets for us,” said Wells coach Troy Brown. “He boxed out well.”
After Medenica made a 3 for the Clippers, Cousins scored on a putback right before the buzzer for a 13-10 lead after eight minutes.
In the first quarter, Woods had eight points and three steals.
Woods picked up where he left off in the second quarter, getting a jumper to bounce in. Hagerty then set up McQueen for a layup, but Cousins got a layup to roll in and Sherburne drove for a layup and a 19-12 lead, forcing Smith to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Cousins made a free throw, then Cousins made a layup to push the run to 11-2.
With 2:32 left in the first half, a Hagerty putback ended Yarmouth’s 4 minute, 50 second drought, but in the final minute, Dempsey made a free throw and Wells had a surprising 23-14 advantage at the half.
The Warriors got 10 points, three steals and a pair of rebounds from Woods, as well as seven points off the bench from Cousins.
The Clippers were led in the half by Hagerty and Harnett, who had four points apiece. Medenica was held to three. Yarmouth was doomed by poor shooting (6 of 24 on field goals, including 1 of 12 on 3-pointers).
In the third period, Yarmouth started slowly, then roared to life to make things very interesting.
The second half began inauspiciously for the Clippers, as they turned the ball over, missed a pair of free throws and turned the ball over twice more.
With 5:38 left in the quarter, Woods put home a missed shot to make it an 11-point game and Smith again called timeout, hoping to ignite a spark.
And at last, it did.
After Medenica knocked down a jumper, Eckersley-Ray stole the ball and fed Torres for a layup, forcing Brown to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Hagerty blocked a shot at one end and set up McQueen for a layup at the other and with 2:04 to go in the frame, Torres setup Nikolic for a layup, cutting the deficit to 25-24 and forcing Brown to call timeout again.
“I didn’t want to let it get away from us,” Brown said. “I told the guys to take care of the basketball. That’s all. We knew if we didn’t turn the ball over, we could stay with them. When they turn you over, it’s layups.”
The Clippers then culminated their comeback with a 3 from Medenica for their first lead since 7-6, but a Woods layup with 25 seconds to go ended the 11-0 run and made it 27-27 heading for the fourth quarter.
Where Wells found a way to complete the upset.
The Warriors went back on top as Cousins was fouled on an offensive rebound and made both free throws and Woods somehow muscled a shot into the basket for a 31-27 advantage.
McQueen countered with a jumper, but Berry’s leaner made it 33-29.
With 5:58 to play, Cousins made a free throw and exactly a minute later, he sank to to extend the lead to 36-29.
Medenica put home a miss with 4:37 left, then it took over two minutes for another point to be scored, as Hagerty hit a layup to cut the deficit to 36-33.
After a Warriors’ turnover, Medenica was fouled on a putback attempt with 1:54 showing and he drained both free throws to make it a one-point contest.
With 1:54 to go, Dempsey was fouled, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one and Medenica got the rebound, giving the Clippers a chance to take the lead, but Medenica’s 3 with 1:25 left was off target.
Woods got the rebound and Wells ran the clock down to 41.4 seconds when Sherburne was fouled (Torres fouled out on the play). Sherburne then calmly made both attempts to make it a three-point game, 38-35.
Yarmouth took a timeout hoping to answer, but Medenica was off on a 3 and Cousins got the rebound.
With 15.9 seconds to go, Cousins made the first free throw to make it a two-possession game. He missed the second, but the rebound rolled right back to him and he gave the ball to Berry, who was fouled with 11.6 seconds showing.
Berry then drained both shots to make it 41-35.
The Clippers still had one highlight left in them, as McQueen buried a 3 from the corner with 7.2 seconds to go, but Yarmouth was out of timeouts and Wells wisely refrained from inbounding the ball until just before time expired and before the Clippers could foul, the final horn sounded and Wells had sprung the upset, 41-38.
“It’s a great feeling for the community,” Woods said. “We went out and put everything on the floor. The first half went well for us and we kept going. We had nothing to lose.”
“We went against a team that felt like Goliath and we held them to 38 points,” Brown said. “Preparing yesterday, I just showed the kids the first half of that (last Yarmouth) game. We were down early, came back and cut the lead to four and I left it at that.
“We decided at the last second to put in a 2-3 zone. They missed shots they usually make. That’s a great, well-coached basketball team. We got lucky we got them on a bad day. We got off to a good start and played well for almost four quarters. We had a little hiccup in the third quarter, but we fought through it. That’s what this team’s about. We fought through adversity. I can’t say enough about my kids. Their integrity, their class, the fight they have. They never stop.”
The Warriors got a monster effort from Woods (16 points, five rebounds, four steals) and tremendous work from Cousins off the bench (13 points, 11 rebounds). Berry (three rebounds, three assists) and Sherburne had four points apiece, Dewey added three and Dempsey had one.
Wells made just 14 of 43 field goals, including 1 of 7 3-pointers, but only committed 12 turnovers and hit 12 of 18 foul shots.
The Warriors last played in a state final in 1984, when they won their second consecutive championship.
Friday night, Wells looks to complete its fairy tale season with a state title, but it won’t come easily against an MDI squad which downed Orono in its regional final Saturday.
“We know how to win,” said Woods. “We won in football. The wrestling team won. Now it’s our turn.”
“We’ll break down film and look at MDI,” Brown said. “We’ll figure it out from there. We want to go represent the Western Maine Conference and go win a Gold Ball.”
Yarmouth was led by Medenica, who had 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. McQueen hinted at stardom to come with nine points. Hagerty had six points, 11 boards, four assists and four blocks. Harnett scored four points in his limited time.
“(Gibby’s) been our first or second leading scorer all year,” Smith said. “When I saw them in a zone, it was an opportunity to utilize him. He stretches the floor for us. When he went out, it handicapped us tremendously in the inside-outside game. We didn’t have the outside presence. They went from packing it in to really packing it in and that made it difficult for our bigs to get off. It’s a tremendous loss for us as a team and a difficult way for Gibby to end his season. I feel worse for him than I do for us.”
Torres added three points and Nikolic finished with two.
The Clippers had a 32-28 rebound advantage, but just couldn’t make shots, missing 30 of 46 field goals, including 15 of 18 3s. Yarmouth made 3 of 6 free throws and turned the ball over 13 times.
“We battled all game,” Smith said. “Every loose ball we’re used to coming up with and the extra opportunities to make a basket or two never really materialized for us. They worked harder than us tonight. I was concerned about the wave they might have coming off their semifinal win. They came out with more confidence tonight, especially Woods knocking down a lot of shots early. He didn’t even look for those the first couple times we played.”
Yarmouth has had some difficult losses over the years, but this one will take a long time to get over.
“I hugged the guys and told them I love them,” Smith said. “It’s one of the few times I’ve been at a loss for words. They’re taking it hard and I’m taking it hard. When you put everything you have into it, you will take it hard. They’ll be OK. They have great families and we have a great community.”
The Clippers graduate Harnett, Medenica and Nikolic, along with Henry Coolidge, John Thoma and Miles Thompson, and while Yarmouth figures to be right back in the hunt in 2017-18 behind the likes of Eckersley-Ray, Hagerty, McQueen and Torres, this senior class will be tough to replace.
“The senior leadership we had this year was a huge part of our success,” Smith said. “We had a football captain, Thoma, who didn’t play much, but his leadership was there every night. We had a soccer captain, Coolidge, who pushed us every night. His work ethic pushed everyone to up theirs. You look at those guys sacrificing playing time, that’s what made them special. The quality of play we got from the other seniors was tremendous. We wouldn’t have been here without them. We’ve talked a lot about past players and how to conduct yourself when you play and when you’re not playing. These guys set the standard all year.”
Wells senior Riley Dempsey takes a charge on Yarmouth senior Aleksander Medenica.
Yarmouth sophomore Noah Eckersley-Ray shoots over Wells senior Owen Berry.
Yarmouth junior Nolan Hagerty drives past Wells senior Deandre White for two points.
Yarmouth senior Igor Nikolic drives on Wells sophomore Matt Sherburne.
Yarmouth freshman Najee McQueen knocks down a jumper.
Yarmouth senior Aleksander Medenica bellows after putting the Clippers ahead with a third quarter 3-pointer.
Wells players rush the floor to celebrate following the victory.
Yarmouth captains senior Aleksander Medenica, left, junior Nolan Hagerty and senior Gibson Harnett receive the runner-up plaque.